John Dobson laments Stormers’ ‘worst half-hour in URC’ against Bulls

FILE - Stormers' head coach John Dobson. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

FILE - Stormers' head coach John Dobson. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

Published Mar 4, 2024


With seven regular-season matches left in the United Rugby Championship (URC), the Stormers suddenly find themselves outside the play-off spots after a tough loss against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

It was their first defeat in 16 matches against South African opposition and the first time in the URC that Jake White and his troops tasted a victory over John Dobson and his band of merry men.

But after Saturday's loss, there's little to be excited about for the Cape side after they were their own worst enemies in the 40-22 result.

Ahead of the game, the Stormers preached the gospel of starting well but conceding copious amounts of penalties in the first 15 minutes of the clash, as the home side dominated the opening stanza. Even after fighting back to trail 19-15 going into the break, playing catch-up rugby at altitude against a strong Bulls side was always going to be a tough task.

The Stormers almost pulled it off with a surge in the second half, but the more they chased, the more the ball bounced in favour of the home side, and players like Embrose Papier, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie only need an ounce of space to hurt you. And that is what they did to the Stormers in the final minutes.

Dobson lamented the start of his side and the penalties and errors that cost them early on.

“That first half an hour was probably our worst in the URC, certainly in key areas like our discipline,” Dobson said. “Around 12 minutes we were on five penalties.

“You can't play against a team as good as the Bulls like that. I don't know where that came from, it was remarkably poor.

“Just when we sort of clawed our way back in the game, we would do something silly. The stats in the second half were something like six 22m entries and zero points. Uncharacteristically ill-disciplined, almost lazy performance by us.

“That one solace would be that we wanted to come back into the game, and we looked quite easy. Warrick (Gelant) was excellent, Manie (Libbok) was good, Damian (Willemse) was good. But generally our forwards and our discipline, the line-outs (were poor).

“The Bulls are a good contesting team up here, we were always going to be under pressure.”

The lost line-outs and countless penalties, along with the delayed start, and wet weather, counted against the Stormers' attacking gameplan, but still, there were some exceptional touches by guys like Gelant, Willemse, Libbok, and wingers Ben Loader, and Leolin Zas.

But the Bulls' all-round gameplay - their backs and forwards gelled well together - took the visitors out of the contest. If it wasn't the evergreen Marcell Coetzee and Marco van Staden spoiling quick possession at the breakdown by slowing it down, it was Player of the Match Ruan Nortje outranking the Stormers' jumpers in the line-outs. At the back, kicks off Papier brought territory and brilliant contesting by Arendse and Moodie.

The inability to curb these players at crucial times is what killed the Stormers every time they had momentum.

"That was not good enough by us, against a very good Bulls side. I thought the delay would help us because they had to come out and chase the game.

"I thought 19-15 at halftime was generous to us. The way we dominated territory in the second half, I was waiting for the dam wall to break.

“It was a four-point game with us pretty much having the momentum. We give away a penalty, and from that, they exit and score a try. Then the gap was 12 points and they took it away from us."